Godfrey Chitalu's Purported Scoring Record Isn't as Impressive as Messi's Mark

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2012

SEVILLE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 09:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (R) celebrates with his teammates Xavi Hernandez (C) and Carles Puyol of FC Barcelona after scoring his team's second goal the La Liga match between Real Betis Balompie and FC Barcelona at Estadio Benito Villamarin on December 9, 2012 in Seville, Spain. With this goal Lionel Messi beats the 1972 scoring record set by Gerd Muller of 85 goals in one year.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

So on Saturday evening, everyone thought that Lionel Messi had set a new record for goals scored in a calendar year for club and country with 86, surpassing Gerd Muller. 

But the Zambian FA had something to say about that.

You see, they claim that Godfrey Chitalu scored a whopping 107 goals in 1972 for Kitwe United and Zambia. And while that may be true, the mark still isn't as impressive as Messi's mark.

We'll get into that in a second. But what of this Chitalu fellow? A spokesperson for the Zambian FA had the following to say to Zambian newspaper Soccer Laduma (via ESPN): 

"Even as the world has been looking at Lionel Messi's record, breaking Gerd Muller's, the debate and discussion back here has been why Godfrey's goals are not being recognised.

"What we are doing is, we have commissioned an independent team locally to go back into the archives and record minute-by-minute each of those goals. The team that we have put together is going to calculate all of those goals, recording whichever game or tournament they were scored in.

"We will then send that to CAF [Confederation of African Football] and FIFA so that we can show that, while Messi's record is there, while Muller's record is there, the actual record holder in terms of goals per calendar year is actually an African. It's actually Godfrey Chitalu."

The Zambian FA isn't the only body disputing Messi's "record." Now, Flamengo has claimed that Zico scored 89 goals in 1979 for his club and Brazil. 

I'm still waiting for Bobby from down the street to remind me he once had 130 goals during an indoor season a few years back. Good old Bobby from down the street.

The truth is, none of these records—if they are verified and held up—are anywhere near as impressive as what Messi has done. Neither league was as strong and star-laden then as La Liga is now. In general, the level of play in club football is stronger across the board these days, and the average footballer is a much better athlete than he would have been 35 years ago. 

Now, I know what the counter-argument will be—hey, Messi plays on an all-star team at Barcelona. The Catalan side is composed of many of the world's most talented players, and Messi seems far greater because the quality of play around him is astonishing.

That might be true, but it assumes two things—that because Barcelona makes it look easy it actually is, and that any player would naturally raise their level of play on a team like Barca.

But neither is true. What Barcelona does on a daily basis is so much more impressive because they make it look easy, but it most certainly is not. The one-two passing, cutting runs and brilliant vision still requires execution from all players involved, and making the smallest mistake when playing such a precise version of football sends the entire attack of the rails.

But Messi never looks out of place with Barca. His passes hit their mark. His runs are absolutely brilliant. He can take on multiple defenders in space. You could argue that his presence elevates the level of his teammates, not the other way around.

Sure, a fair amount of Messi's goals come from him putting home a perfectly weighted pass while the goalkeeper looks on helpless, out of position to stop him from tapping a shot into the net. But don't underestimate Messi's ability to make the perfect run and put himself in threatening positions.

The point is this: Playing with such talented teammates rewards his brilliance since his teammates are good enough to accentuate his abilities; it doesn't somehow diminish his accomplishments. Don't knock an artist for creating beauty with better tools than a lesser artist possesses.

I'm sorry, but scoring 86 goals during a season—and mind you, with two more games to play he could crack 90—is far more impressive than scoring 107 goals in Zambia back in 1972. The league is of a higher quality, the level of play is immeasurably better and we haven't seen anyone come close to this level of output in years.

Chitalu or Zico can have the record if FIFA acknowledges their accomplishment. But for my money, Messi's season is the most impressive performance by a goal-scorer in the history of the game.


Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets consistently reach 140 goals. Wait, I meant characters, not goals. And it's hardly a record. Oh well.

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